I had mixed feelings upon hearing about the Woolwich attack. I felt first for the family of the man who had been attacked, then for those in London that had been witnesses and finally, as I thought about it a little more, I became concerned over the way in which the attack was being reported.
At first I wondered whether it was just me – I’ve spent the last few months researching the Scottish Independence Referendum through Scottish newspapers and online resources and the media here leaves much to be desired. The articles of the Scotsman and Herald are often sensational, rich in bluster, and lacking in content (though every so often you get a golden article by a rare writer). In contrast the writing in the BBC, Guardian, Times, Telegraph etc has been quite fair; there’s still a strong bias in many of the papers but it’s a recognisable bias. You can see the authors view seeping through in drips and drabs between the core facts. With the Scottish media I find myself picking up of half-truths and selective information, which is disappointing.
However, it seems like the mainstream UK media has done a bit of a shit job reporting the Woolwich crisis – not in terms of getting information of course, but in terms of stance and tone. The event was quickly defined as a ‘terrorist attack’, the two perpetrators quickly labelled ‘terrorists’ and their message tinged with ‘Allahu Akbar’ references. There’s little doubt that their actions were barbaric and immoral, but to suddenly claim the attack was a terrorist attack because of a shout of ‘Allahu Akbar’ is an incredible overstatement. Was it planned? We don’t really know yet. Was it part of some larger operation? Again, we don’t really know yet. So what do we know? Two men attacked a man in London, shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and discussed government issues with the public (including government control, the Iraq/Afgan war etc) and then tried to attack the police when they appeared. What was it, then? It was two potentially-crazy people attacking and killing a man whilst referencing religion, or, it was two religiously delusional men attacking and killing a man, or, it was part of some other organised terrorist plot, or, it was two crazy people attacking and killing a man because of the wars we are fighting in other countries.
The list is a long one. The reasons they did what they did could be rather expansive – but the mainstream media know a good selling point where they see one. Terrorism, yeah – we’ll call it terrorism. Don’t get me wrong, it is terrifying but terrifying and terror are two very different things. Religion, at the moment, is also a sensitive issue.
I think it’s also important to think about the fact that the victim of the attack was a soldier. Soldiers kill people everyday – that’s what they do, it’s their job, but we don’t expect them to be kill or be killed when their off duty, then it’s murder. We find ourselves wading into complexity here; what if the soldier was on duty? What if he was on duty and killed in his sleep? Is that fair? If we kill three innocents to kill one soldier how can that be justified? The philosophy surrounding warfare is an uncomfortable one and doesn’t make any action in which a member of the public is killed any less disgusting and immoral, but we should still think about these relationships between freedom fighter and terrorist. With American soldiers bursting in on civilians and killing them as they sleep, and Obama’s questionable definition of ‘combatants’ alongside the horror of drone attacks we are in muddy water.
Nevertheless, I do wonder sometimes whether those sitting in the offices of the BBC or the Guardian, maybe the Telegraph actually think before writing, posting or re-editing an article. If you combine the words ‘terrorism’ ‘attack’ ‘muslim’ and ‘british victim’ together then your on to a winner (as far as readership is concerned). It’s sensational, it’s dangerous, it’s fucking stupid. What happened the next day?
No it didn’t. BBC/Guardian/Telegraph/Sun/Mirror reporting sparked the Muslim backlash, and now, with a number of EDL protests coming up there’s a whole new level of potential conflict arising. Kudos to the Islamic community however for issuing a letter of condemnation against the attackers – but that, too, smells a little off. Why should they have to issue a letter of condemnation so quickly? They shouldn’t be tarnished by the attackers actions anyway – the letter of condemnation is, itself, an example of the media’s malicious reporting.
There have been many claims that the attackers wanted to start ‘a war’, I guess by inciting hatred and sparking a riotlike situation, and now we find ourselves on the uncomfortable cusp of conflict – however, the irony is that the incident itself isn’t going to start ‘a war’, it’s the image constructed from the incident that has the potential to start the war. The fault no longer seems to lie with the attackers, at the incident the public didn’t seem to get overly aggressive, instead, they were terrified of what they’d just seen. If this was war, then they certainly didn’t want it (or see it – of course we’ve been fighting wars in other countries for decades, something I disagree incredibly strongly with and that has also suffered at the hands of half-arsed reporting). Yet now, through the extension of the scene through the media into the televisions and postboxes of a large number of households everyone’s got riled up, though, sadly, not quite in the same way that I’m riled up.
Well, let’s hope that nothing happens eh? I hope all of this blows over and the media learns its lesson. It won’t, of course, so I’ll continue to try and avoid it like everyone else should.
Someone sent me this today, it’s four years old yet remarkably applicable to the incident we now all think we know about (myself included).
Here’s some links: